Thursday, February 23, 2017

Trump faces test in speech to Congress -- Feb. 23, 2017 column


When President Donald Trump delivers his first speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, he’ll see a House chamber as divided as the nation.

Dozens of Democratic members of Congress boycotted Trump’s inauguration, but they plan to turn the joint session into a mini protest. Many are bringing as guests Muslims, the disabled and other minorities who they say will be hurt by Trump’s policies.

So Trump faces a test: Will he be the combative campaigner people either love or hate or will he offer an olive branch?    

Trump gave Congress, even Republicans, the back of his hand in his inaugural address, failing to mention House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He castigated the same politicians he’ll address Tuesday in prime time.

“Their victories have not been your victories, their triumphs have not been your triumphs,” he said. “And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”

Stephen Miller, the aide who wrote the inaugural address, with its bleak picture of 
“American carnage,” is also writing the joint session speech. This time, though, the president will present an optimistic, positive vision, officials say.

Trump, who insists he inherited “a mess,” will talk about what he’s done so far and where he plans to take the country in broad terms.

“It’s important for the American people to know that he was an agent of change; he came here to get things done, and he didn’t waste any time,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Wednesday.

“In the drafts that I’ve seen so far, it is going to be a very strong blueprint of where he wants to take this country,” Spicer said.

While Trump has signed executive orders to achieve some of his goals, he needs legislation for many of the big items on his to-do list: tax cuts, infrastructure projects, health care reform and a secure border. That means working with Capitol Hill.

But Trump’s dismal approval ratings make it easier for Democrats, and perhaps some Republicans, to keep him at arm’s length. Just 42 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing, lower by far than any other president after a month in office, Gallup reports. A nationwide poll by Quinnipiac University released Wednesday found Trump with 38 percent job approval.

Rep. Jim Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat, is leading the effort among House Democrats to bring as guests people who have faced discrimination and made positive contributions.

Langevin’s guest is Dr. Ehsun Mirza, a Pakistani-born critical care physician and naturalized citizen who is a leader in Rhode Island’s Muslim community. 

Trump’s speech is not officially a State of the Union address. The last five presidents have spoken to Congress early in their first year but have waited until the second year to deliver a State of the Union address.

After the bitter and protracted 2000 election, President George W. Bush addressed Congress Feb. 27, 2001, on his Administration’s Goals.

“Together we are changing the tone in the nation’s capital,” Bush proclaimed. He promised education would be his top priority.

“Let us agree to bridge old divides. But let us also agree that our good will must be dedicated to great goals. Bipartisanship is more than minding our manners; it is doing our duty,” Bush said.

Which reminds us that even if we like what a president says at such august occasions, we should take their words with a grain of salt.

In February 1981, shortly after he took office, President Ronald Reagan addressed Congress on his Program for Economic Recovery, calling for massive tax cuts, spending cuts on domestic programs and hefty increases in defense spending.

Warning that the national debt was approaching $1 trillion, Reagan offered a dandy word picture.

“If you had a stack of thousand-dollar bills in your hand only 4 inches high, you’d be a millionaire,” Reagan said. “A trillion dollars would be a stack of thousand dollar bills 67 miles high.”

But Reagan’s policies only exacerbated the debt. By the time he left office the national debt had nearly tripled. That stack of thousand dollar bills would have been 160 miles high.

©2017 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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